Modifying the Kalash: A Basic AK Upgrade

I’ve had a lot of questions concerning the AK platform since the last several articles I’ve written about it, and a lot of them revolve around modernizing the weapon. None of this is really anything new or revolutionary. in fact, the couple of mods I’m going to discuss here have been around for a looong time, but have become an industry standard for the high-end AK manufacturers such as Rifle Dynamics and Meridian Defense.

Palmetto State Armory’s PSAK, UW Gear Swamp Fox and Ontario RTAK II.

The first modification in bringing your Kalash to the modern era of combat is to ditch the wood for polymer. Yeah, I know, I’ve got a strong affinity for that classic look too, but anyone who’s put a lot of rounds through the AK rapidly knows that wood handguards get scorching hot in a hurry- so much so that they’re impossible to run without gloves. And the wood holds that heat. Russian polymer, such as the handguards found on later AK-74s and the AK-100 series, is constructed with a heatshield that cools it down faster. I still run gloves no matter what, but, as some Russian SOF guys are quoted as saying, “only the Americans run wood on AKs anymore”.

Not sure I totally buy that in all cases, but their point is made. And they’re not wrong.

Contractors running Ultimak-equipped AKs overseas.

I’m a giant fan of the Ultimak, which replaces the gas tube on the AK and is secured by two U-bolts clamped to the barrel. It is rugged, dependable, can be easily mounted by the operator, and I’ve seen them used overseas in both Iraq and Afghanistan by PSD contractors and more elite units of local national security forces.

Palmetto State Armory PSAK after mods.

And not without good reason. The simplicity of adding an Ultimak in place of the AK’s gas tube allows a forward mounting of a mini red dot sight. This is a setup which is naturally intuitive and points well. In the decade or so since I set my first AK up like this I realized that it was lightyears faster than iron sights alone, added little weight to the gun, maintained that lower-third cowitness in case of optic failure and, arguably most important, didn’t change or interfere with the manual of arms.

Optics on the AK can be tricky for sure, but one of the more serious hazards comes from racking the bolt after a magazine change or malfunction drill. In both cases you’ve got to tilt the weapon, going either over the bore or under it in order to chamber a new round (unless you’re left handed). You run the risk of hitting the optic under duress. Being forward mounted means the red dot is well out of your way.

Red dots have come a long way also. It used to be that the only real option was an Aimpoint T1. If you wanted to try the setup you’d maybe buy a Bushnell TRS-25 or any of the other inexpensive mini red dots, but they left as lot to be desired and I’d personally never run one in combat. In the decade since the technology is lightyears beyond those options. I’m currently working with a Holosun 403, and so far i can’t find fault with it. It’s held up to the heat and reciprocating long stroke piston of the AK just fine, keeping a rock solid zero. Pick up some extra mags and you’re good to go. The whole setup puts lead on target fast and effectively while keeping the minimalist approach I favor these days.

No bullshit, all fight.

Come out and train. Got an AK class coming up in January.

2 thoughts on “Modifying the Kalash: A Basic AK Upgrade

  1. dave

    Great stuff
    Ive heard you comment in the past on the fireballs that AKs generate

    Can you recommend a flash suppressor?
    Thanks, as always for your great help to the cause.

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